Translocation in a fragmented river provides demographic benefits for imperiled fishes

By: , and 



Fragmentation isolates individuals and restricts access to valuable habitat with severe consequences for populations, such as reduced gene flow, disruption of recolonization dynamics, reduced resiliency to disturbance, and changes in aquatic community structure. Translocations to mitigate the effects of fragmentation and habitat loss are common, but few are rigorously evaluated, particularly for fishes. Over six years, we translocated 1215 individuals of four species of imperiled fish isolated below a barrier on the San Juan River, Utah, USA, that restricts access to upstream habitat. We used re-encounter data (both passive integrated transponder tag and telemetry detections and physical recaptures) collected between 2016 and 2023, to inform a spatially explicit multistate mark–recapture model that estimated survival and transition probabilities of translocated and non-translocated individuals, both below and above the barrier. Individuals of all four species moved large (>200 km) distances upstream following translocation, with the maximum upstream encounter distance varying by species. Results from the multistate mark–recapture model suggested translocated fish survived at a higher rate compared with non-translocated fish below the barrier for three of the four species. Above the barrier, translocated individuals survived at similar rates as non-translocated fish for bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus) and flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis), while survival rates of translocated endangered Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius; mean, 95% CI: 0.75, 0.55–0.88) and endangered razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus; 0.86, 0.75–0.92) were higher relative to non-translocated individuals (Colorado pikeminnow: 0.52, 0.51–0.54; razorback sucker: 0.75, 0.74–0.75). Transition probabilities from above the barrier to below the barrier were generally low for three of the four species (all upper 95% CI ≤ 0.23), but they were substantially higher for razorback sucker. Our results suggest translocation to mitigate fragmentation and habitat loss can have demographic benefits for large-river fish species by allowing movements necessary to complete their life history in heterogeneous riverscapes. Further, given the costs or delays in providing engineered fish passage structures or in achieving dam removal, we suggest translocations may provide an alternative conservation strategy in fragmented river systems.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Translocation in a fragmented river provides demographic benefits for imperiled fishes
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4874
Volume 15
Issue 5
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Eastern Ecological Science Center
Description e4874, 18 p.
Country United States
State Colorado, New Mexico, Utah
Other Geospatial San Juan River
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